Those of a certain age may recall the American mathematician and humourist Tom Lehrer’s 1959 song “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”… “All the world seems in tune on a spring afternoon, when we're poisoning pigeons in the park”...
This amusing ditty, a big favourite of my father’s, came to mind this week while I spent two perfect dry and sunny spring afternoons poisoning willows on the wetland. Obviously I didn’t use Tom’s “peanuts coated with cyanide”, instead a drill, and judicious quantities of glyphosate based herbicide. One drills holes in the trunk and carefully in dribbles in 2ml of neat glyphosate , killing the trees in a process known as chemical thinning.
Long term photographic monitoring shows that over the last 20 years or so willow carr has spread markedly across the wetlands here at Teifi Marshes Reserve. Without making attempts to control its spread, in time the marsh would become entirely overgrown with willow and succeed to wet woodland. An important protected wetland habitat would be lost, to the detriment of any number of threatened species.
The wetland areas of the reserve are part of a larger Site of Special Scientific Interest (or SSSI). Because of this, all work we do which might impact the wetland in any way has to be approved by Natural Resources Wales (NRW), which in the case of killing willows required two separate applications for their consent. Perhaps surprisingly to most, this bureaucratic process was extremely helpful. NRW experts were able to provide their advice as to the most effective way to proceed and (very importantly) which pesticides we could lawfully use for the task.
So visitors this spring may well notice a number of dead or dying willow trees close to the boardwalks along wetland trail. Not many however, as to safely use glyphosate we have to be sure there’ll be 24 hours of dry weather immediately following its application…so, as you’ll guess, we’ve not done much winnowing willow this winter. Chemical thinning will be an ongoing part of winter reserve management over the next 10 years.
While on the subject of poisoning vegetation, I also treated a small area of gorse, bramble and thick grasses, near our established wildlife garden site, with glyphosate this week. The reason for this particular bit of seemingly wanton destruction is to allow us to extend the wildlife garden, and will hugely benefit our amphibians; also butterflies, bees and other insect pollinators. We have been fortunate enough to receive immensely kind funding for this garden expansion from the Co-op, from monies raised by the 5p single use carrier bag levy in its stores across Wales.
A planting scheme has been kindly developed by an expert local garden designer (Michelle Dunn of Landworks in Blaenporth). The garden is intended to provide quite a show for seasonal visitors, and will provide an easily accessible platform for less mobile volunteers to become involved in reserve management. While all the time it will happily provide a helping hand to local wildlife. I particularly like the pond we’ve recently installed, which I hope will become happy home for frog families.
The one small potential fly in the ointment is provided courtesy of a pack of very hungry rabbits, who have previously taken a liking to much of the wildlife garden! As I am regularly reminded, this is a Nature Reserve, and rabbits are wildlife too…so the more effective forms of rabbit control (a lá Mr McGregor in Peter Rabbit) are really not cricket. Instead I shall be spending summer shouting “boo” from the café veranda at the approach of any bothersome bunnies.
Joking aside, our plans for the wildlife garden should be a great success, and provide a super long term asset for people and wildlife alike.